The injury bug continues to plague BYU's defense. The Cougars wasted a serviceable offensive effort against Nevada by being unable to protect the two score lead they were given at half time on the defensive side of the ball. Boise State comes in averaging 32 points per game, and shows incredible balance offensively, averaging 291 yards per game passing the ball, and 194 yards per game rushing. Despite the impressive passing yards average, quarterback Grant Hedrick has only thrown for eight touchdowns on the season with 10 interceptions, an area of opportunity for the BYU defense to step up and steal some possessions for the offense. If the secondary is able to contain the passing attack, BYU's front seven can focus on stopping workhorse running back Jay Ajayi, by far the most effective threat for the Broncos.
In order for the Cougars to force Boise State's offense into one dimensional play calling, they need to have a big day from the secondary. Unfortunately, the secondary for the Cougars is one of the most injury riddled units in college football. Potentially down two safeties and a cornerback, BYU has to turn to their bench in order to counter opponents' passing attacks. In order to succeed, BYU needs to have a big game from sophomore backup safety Kai Nacua. Kai has filled in ably for the injured Craig Bills, but BYU needs him to have more of an impact if they are going to win on Friday night. If Nacua can help the Cougars lock down the deep ball, it will allow BYU's fifth ranked rush defense to stuff the running game, forcing even more opportunities for the defenders as the Broncos try to push the ball down the field.
Nacua should be able to have a big day against Hedrick, whose questionable accuracy should lead to some great opportunities for the defense, whether on inaccurate throws, or second chances off of passes defensed. While undersized, he has good vision and awareness, which should allow him to take the right angles and be in the correct position to help BYU stuff the run game, limiting Ajayi's ability to break one for a big gain. While the replacement players in the secondary won't keep the starters from coming back once they're healthy, this is definitely their time to shine, and to prove that they belong in the mix for the starting rotation in the defensive backfield.
Stopping Boise State on their blue turf is a tall order, but there's a lot of parity between these two teams. One thing is certain, particularly if BYU gets another good performance offensively early on, the defense needs to protect the lead. I think that Nacua should be able to help them do it, look for Nacua to get a turnover, a few tackles, and be in on some pass breakups on Friday night.
Here's an interview with Nacua on BYUtv last week:
(Youtube, BYUTV Sports)